Kitimat, British Columbia, incorporated as a district municipality in 1953, population 8,236 (2021 census), 8,131 (2016 census). The district of Kitimat is located at the head of the Douglas Channel, 206 km east of Prince Rupert by road. Its name comes from the Tsimshian term for the Haisla inhabitants of the area, Kitamaat (“people of the snow”). The modern community was founded in the early 1950s.
Before European colonization, the Kitamaat band lived along the Kitimat Arm at the north end of the Douglas Channel (see Haisla). A wave of European settlers came to the area in the early 1900s, when the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway surveyed the site as the railway’s possible western end point. Prince Rupert became the terminus of the railway, however, and most of these early settlers left.
The origins of the current municipality of Kitimat date to the early 1950s, when Alcan built an aluminum smelter at the head of the Douglas Channel. Alcan also helped plan and finance the Kitimat townsite. The location offered a deepwater port with access to world markets. The alluvial plain of the Kitimat River provided flat land for the smelter and town. A dam on the Nechako River provided the massive hydroelectric power needed to smelt aluminum. The dam diverted the Nechako’s flow westward through a tunnel to a massive generating station in Kemano.
The Eurocan Pulp and Paper Co. built a mill in Kitimat in 1969. West Fraser bought the mill in 1993. It closed the mill in 2010, citing declining profits. (See also Pulp and Paper Industry.) A methanol and ammonia plant also operated in Kitimat from the 1980s until 2005. These plants were significant employers. Spurred by industrial development, Kitimat’s population crested at 13,000 or more from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s.
Economy and Labour Force
Multinational corporation Rio Tinto bought the Alcan aluminum smelter in 2007. Rio Tinto now employs about 1,000 people in Kitimat, roughly 12 per cent of the population. The smelter is a cornerstone of the community’s economy. Other contributors include tourism, small business, port development and international trade investments.
Construction is underway on a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal in Kitimat. From this facility, owned by a joint venture called LNG Canada, marine tankers will ship Canadian natural gas to Asia. According to the federal government, the project will create at least 300 permanent jobs in the community. The Haisla Nation Council supports the LNG Canada project. LNG Canada has contracted the Haisla Nation and shipping company Seaspan ULC to design, build and operate tugboats for export operations.